Sorrow: A Forbidden Emotion

In the book of Genesis, the verb “to weep” appears some fourteen times; the vast majority of the time that this verb is used, Joseph is its subject. While we all know the short verse, “And Jesus wept,” we might do well to remember that Joseph, as far as we know, wept a lot more.

A victim of his father’s favoritism, very nearly murdered by his brothers, sold into slavery by their hand, accused of rape, and wrongfully imprisoned–Joseph’s life was no cake walk. Somehow, at the end of his life, Joseph declares, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good” (Gen. 50:20).

This verse preaches. Here is a man who, in the face of incredible suffering, embraces God’s sovereignty and submits Himself to His service. (It practically begs to be alliterated.)

But is it really so simple? Joseph, at the end of his suffering, comes to embrace God’s sovereign plan, yes. But this embrace came at the price of tears–many, many tears. The solace in God’s suffering that we preach and counsel and shepherd one another toward comes only after much sorrow. Thus, sorrow is something we must also embrace, if we are to embrace God’s sovereign purpose in our pain.

Yet, if this is the case, why have we forgotten the sorrow?

Why have we forbidden sadness? If there was ever a forbidden emotion in the church, it is sadness. Grief, sorrow, distress, depression, despair–you name it–we simply don’t talk about it. This is ironic, given that the Scriptures are laden with the accounts of men and women who, in the depths of despair, come to embrace God’s sovereignty on the other side of their sorrow.

The vast majority of the Psalms deal with sorrow and suffering; Job gets forty-odd chapters to his arguments about suffering before he comes to understand his pain; Habakkuk wrestles with God; Jeremiah writes a whole book of Lamentations; Paul frequently cites his suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Even our Lord is known as a “Man of Sorrows.”

So why the taboo on sorrow?

The reasons are many, but the most important is simple: we’re afraid of sorrow. We simply can’t handle it; we just don’t know what to do. When a friend finds their lives destroyed by cancer, grieved by the death of a child, or wrecked by a spouse’s adultery, we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Raised in a culture of Evangelicalism that has an answer for everything, we freeze when we don’t have an answer for the most personal and important of all questions: “Where is God when I hurt?” In the face of this question, we flee; as we run, we throw stock phrases and verses over our shoulders hoping to find an atheist, an agnostic, anyone that has questions we can actually answer.

This response is rather silly, because the Scriptures don’t need us to have answers for our friends who feel sad, Instead, the Scriptures tell us that our best response is remaining present, if silent, with our sad friend. When Job’s life bottoms out, his friends come to him and sit with him in compassionate, loving silence. (And it’s only when they start talking that things go wrong.)

Silence may be the best gift we have to offer our sad friends, but not a silence that turns a deaf ear to our friends’ pain. No, what our sad friends need is a robust silence, a sturdy quiet, and a hearty embrace that says, as Gandalf once did, “I will not say ‘Do not weep,’ for not all tears are an evil.”

I wrote this post for the folks over at Thrive80, who helped me publish Unfriend Yourself. This post is part of a series promoting Rhett Smith’s (@rhetter) new book The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? This blog is a compilation of some really fantastic Millennial writers (many are my friends) and I think you’d be silly not to spend the rest of your day reading some of their stuff. 

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